Saturday, April 11, 2009

long weekend knitting and Easter bread

It may be April, and the weather may be getting warmer, but it's still winter here Chez Looking Glass -- at least as far as the knitting's concerned. It seems always to be my M.O. to get the knitting bug and finally have time time to make something substantial just as the weather is getting too warm to wear it. Hence my lovely Shalom, which I have been able to wear thrice since knitting it. Now I'm deep into another totally unseasonal and impractical knit -- an Adult Surprise Jacket for my mom in Dream in Color Classy ("Dusky Aurora") and some stripes of leftover black Karabella Aurora 8.

It's been a hoot to knit. Originally, I had thought that the color variation in the Classy would be enough to accentuate the mitered corners and cool construction of this sweater, but you can see that the variegation was just too subtle -- a fact which really is a strong point of this yarn, because, really, who wants really noticeable striping and pooling? So I had to build in some stripes with a contrast color. I'm keeping it subtle with this one -- Paula is a pretty conservative dresser, and I'm planning to keep the striping to a minimum and to finish this short and boxy, like a little jacket.

Next up in the wintry yarn/knitting docket: an order of Jo Sharp DK wool in "Venice" that I got on the cheap in a supersale at Webs. This is probably also going to be a sweater for my mom, with a more conservative projected finishing time of this fall. I'm thinking simple, stockinette body with a cable at the button band and cables on the yoke -- kind of like a variation on the Radcliffe Cardigan. Of which, I realize, I still have two on the needles -- one for my mom and one for me. The one for my mom turned out dishearteningly small, and I just don't have the heart to rip it out and reknit the body bigger. So of course the solution is just to knit something else and let it keep languishing...

But all of those projects are temporarily on hold while I knit something for myself.

This is the beginnings of a hybrid circular shrug and shawl-collared vest for me, to wear over this dress at a May wedding:

I'm hoping the vintage-style look of that dramatic shrug shape (with added 3/4 sleeves) will both keep me warm and match the look of the dress. I'm making this out of Knitpicks Gloss held doubled. Definitely not my ideal choice for yarn -- Knitpicks yarns have always disappointed me with their tendency to pill immediately, and this yarn is a little scratchier and cheaper looking than I had hoped (the name "gloss" led me to imagine smooth, glossy yarn and not wooly, acrylic-shiny yarn) but I didn't want to break the bank on something I expect I will only wear a few times at most. I do have an awesome shiny faceted antique button I plan to use for the closing. More on that when I finish -- it has to be done by May 16th, at least!

Other crafty doings of late include baking a pair of perfect loaves of nisu, a Finnish bread my grandmother always made. This sweet, eggy, cardamom-flavored bread is sometimes spelled "nissu" and is more often called "pulla," which I believe is also the Swedish word for coffeebread. I got the itch to make it as Easter approached -- it's not necessarily an Easter bread or even a special-occasion bread, but I only got to eat it on holidays and special occasions when I was a kid, because that's when we tended to see my grandma.

Why, you ask, did I speak of loaves of nisu but only show you a paltry butt end and slice? Uh, because I've already eaten the rest of that loaf and shoved the other in the freezer to avoid further temptation.

I thought I'd share the recipe with you. In my opinion, I've gotten it totally perfected -- my mom attests that it is better than my grandmother's, which is saying a lot. So bake this and feel like a true Finn. Or at least a true Finno-American.

Nisu: Finnish coffee bread
Recipe adapted from Carmel Mackey's family recipe

Ingredients (makes two loaves):

1 cup 2% milk
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom (grinding whole seeds in a coffee or spice mill recommended)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package rapid-rise yeast
1/8 cup lukewarm water
2 eggs, beaten
3-4 cups flour
1 tablespoon 2% milk and 1 beaten egg to brush tops of loaves
fancy Swedish pearl sugar or fancy casting sugar to sprinkle on loaves

Equipment that might come in handy but is not necessary:

cooking thermometer
stand mixer
pastry brush
bread loaf pans

Scald the milk. I don't really remember what scalding actually involves, but I heated the milk on medium-high until bubbles started to form around the edges. Remove from heat and add butter, sugar, cardamom and salt. Don't stir at all. Just after you add these ingredients, dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit while the milk mixture cools.

When milk mixture cools to between 105 and 115 degrees, scoop 2 cups of the flour into a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Make a well in the flour and add eggs, milk mixture and yeast mixture to this. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Then begin adding the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until dough holds together and doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl, but is not too dry. If you are mixing this with the dough hook in your stand mixer, you might find that it's easiest to gauge the dough's consistency by stopping when it is still a little wet and kneading the remaining flour in during the kneading stage. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. It's okay if you find you have to add some more flour as you knead to keep dough from sticking to your hands. Shape dough into a ball and place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Turn dough around a few times in the bowl to grease the top of dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Turn dough out onto a clean, oiled surface (no flour) and knead lightly and briefly to release air. Divide in half, and divide each half into three equal balls. Roll each ball into a snake about a foot long. Arrange 3 snakes vertically on the counter. Pinch together at the top and braid (as you would braid hair), stretching snakes ever so slightly as you braid them. Pinch together bottom and turn top and bottom pinched areas under to make braid look neat. Place braid into a lightly oiled bread pan or onto an oiled cookie sheet (making it in a bread pan will make the loaf rise taller, but it has to be a pretty long bread pan, not a little banana bread pan). Repeat with second loaf. Cover loaves with clean dishtowels and let rise until doubled, as long as 4 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is.

When loaves are the right size, heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat together egg and milk for brushing. Brush tops of loaves with this mixture, then sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake 15-25 minutes, until tops of loaves are lightly browned. Let cool.

Even tastier the second day. Also good toasted and spread with butter when it starts to get a little stale.